In her subtle way, my wife Maria suggests that I began to “fall apart” after we married. The inference being that I kept the lid on damaged goods to win her hand. “Coincidence,” I tell her.
From grade school through college, my only illness was a brief bout with appendicitis. Frequently, basketball games left mementos on my skull in the form of a concussion, a black eye, or a bent nose, but these trophies of war never kept me from a day’s work. I had always been healthy and expected to remain so, that is until a few years ago.
At my daughter Lauren’s christening, relatives commented that I looked like hell. Of course, Maria and Libby, my mother-in-law, had been telling me the same thing, prodding me to go to a doctor. I knew I had lost some weight, but I attributed it to heat, stress and basketball.
Now before I go further, it’s important for you to understand my love for food, especially Italian cuisine. My wife’s culinary skills played no small part in our union. To downplay that fact would be like Marla Maples claiming she didn’t know Mr. Trump was rich. Suffice to say that the quantity of food I consume could feed platoons, but I had reached a point where I was constantly hungry and ate even more than usual. Weight loss was a puzzling part of the picture.
Finally, I made an appointment with Richard Istrico, MD, of Howard Beach, N.Y., an expert in sports medicine. I walked into his office expecting him to tell me I had a thyroid condition.
Istrico asked me just a few questions before he said he thought I had diabetes. Blood glucose and urine tests soon confirmed his diagnosis. I had the classic symptoms: constant thirst, weight loss, fatigue, occasional blurred vision, and frequent urination. Since diabetes doesn’t run in my family, with the exception of a first cousin, I was stunned.
Istrico prescribed Glucotrol and referred me to an endocrinologist. I was put on a torturous short-term diet to lower my blood sugar. I had lost 30-pounds prior to the diagnosis and after getting a look at the diet, I was certain there was a conspiracy to finish me off. Strangely, eating less (but the right combination of foods) actually brought about a slight, but much-needed weight gain.
At the time, I was writing for a pharmaceuticals magazine and had coincidentally been inundated with material on diabetes. I had a foot-high stack of information for an article I was preparing. Suddenly, it became very relevant.
I soon learned the threat was not the diabetes per se but the multitude of potential complications associated with the disease: hypertension, kidney failure, glaucoma, amputations, blindness, and worse.
I had resisted the idea of injecting insulin, but realized I was not going to feel like my old self until I did. My endocrinologist, Robert Bernstein, MD, of the Joslin Center in New York City, led me to understand that insulin was the proper course. A nurse educator and a nutritionist helped me begin to understand how to balance my food intake, exercise, and a heavy workload.
Exercise is the most important part of the equation. During the week, I often get home at 8 p.m. or later but still try to get in a few hundred push-ups before going to sleep. My blood glucose readings are almost always below 120 and frequently below 90. I check three or four times, every day.
The dangerous thing about diabetes is that it’s insidious. It doesn’t slam you all at once with excruciating pain. There was no pain, only lethargy. Had I not been diagnosed in time, I could have slipped into a diabetic coma or wound up dead-with my luck, it would have happened on the A-train where my body would have been ignored. I can only say I feel fortunate because diabetes is a manageable condition. I don’t think many cancer patients can say the same thing.
To be passive about diabetes is to pursue a death wish. Life is short. Why make it shorter? Do I miss sweet potatoes? Freihofer’s chocolate chip cookies? Grand Marnier Souffl_? Of course. But over time it’s those of us who have consistently high readings who are more subject to diabetes-related complications. I don’t cheat very often. All the motivation I need to stay healthy is right at home.